Abstract: Client Experiences of Intensive Welfare-to-Work Services Under California's Family Stabilization Program (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Client Experiences of Intensive Welfare-to-Work Services Under California's Family Stabilization Program

Friday, January 18, 2019: 9:00 AM
Union Square 17 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Aditi Das, PhD, Post Doctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Sarah Carnochan, PhD, Research Director, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Nicole Liner-Jigamian, MSW, Research Analyst/Project Manager, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Cristina Gomez-Vidal, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Micheal Austin, PhD, Milton and Florence Krenz Mack Distinguished Professor of Nonprofit Management, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background & Purpose: This study aims to understand client experiences of welfare-to-work services received through the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs), Family Stabilization (FS) Program. Welfare-to-work participant outcomes such as employment, school enrollment and participation in job training have not been effective for many clients (Verma & Hendra, 2003; Davis et al., 2016). In 2014, California implemented the FS program to assist families experiencing destabilizing crises by 1) providing intensive case management services to address participant barriers to work and 2) providing whole family focused services to support family and child well-being.  Most prior studies of client experiences in welfare-to-work programs have provided a quantitative assessment of outcomes, while fewer studies have explored client perspectives on service experiences. Drawing on conceptual frameworks related to family support services, social capital and service user perspectives, the current study prioritizes client voice and provides insight into how the unique emphasis of the FS program on intensive case management and whole-family services addresses clients’ employment barriers and needs.

Methods: A qualitative research design was employed to explore client experiences of the FS program across seven participating counties. Analysis of demographic and FS program participation characteristics generated comparable sampling frames of 15-20 FS clients per county. Eight clients per county were then recruited for the final sample (n=56). Most clients were randomly selected from the county sampling frames while some were purposively sampled to ensure client diversity. In-person semi-structured interviews were conducted at county agencies or at the client’s home, using an open-ended interview guide. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed in Dedoose (qualitative analytical software) using an inductive and deductive coding scheme.

Results: The FS clients interviewed were primarily single-mothers, representing an array of ethnicities and age. Many reported complex and persistent needs and challenges related to domestic violence, mental health and/or substance use. Due to high housing costs in the region, many identified housing as their primary need. Across counties, participants reported positive experiences with FS services. They described receiving services that connected them to community-based organizations providing housing, therapy or childcare. They appreciated and benefited from caring, trusting relationships with their FS caseworkers who provided personalized assistance to address their family’s needs, including documenting service eligibility. Client experiences were also shaped by the timing and duration of the FS services received as well their pathway into the FS program.

Many clients contrasted their experiences with the FS program to the CalWORKs program as a whole. As one client stated, “FS made me feel like a person and not another case”. Clients viewed the FS program as a “hidden treasure”, a repository of helpful information and service referrals, which should be more widely publicized.

Conclusions & Implications: Study findings indicate that human service agencies can better serve the needs of welfare-to-work clients who are experiencing destabilizing crises by focusing on building trusting worker-client relationships, tailoring services to client needs, expanding services from the adult head of household to the entire family, and helping clients navigate service criteria and requirements.